By Jonathan Mong
Autumn Leaves Used Books, a used bookstore that has been on the Commons for 30 years, celebrated its sale with an event and ribbon-cutting ceremony in its space on Thursday. PM Press, the new owners, are an independent, collective publisher that tries to amplify the work and voices of radical artists, authors and activists.
The event was put on with the help of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which is a nonprofit and collective of local businesses whose goal is to revitalize the downtown Ithaca community.
Joseph Wetmore, the founder and previous owner of Autumn Leaves, started the bookstore in 1993. After eight years, he moved the shop across the Commons into its current location at 115 E State Street, where it has been for 22 years now. After deciding this year was the best time to retire, he sold the store to PM Press on Sunday, Jan. 1, although he decided to stay on to ease the transition.
The DIA welcomed PM Press with open arms. Ashley Cake, president of the DIA, expressed both her love for Autumn Leaves and her optimism that PM Press will be able to continue the excellence that Wetmore had provided.
“Autumn Leaves has been such an important place for me ever since it was across the street,” said Ashley Cake, president of the DIA, in a speech during the event. “I would disappear into Autumn Leaves. Now as an adult engaged in revolution, it’s great to hear that PM Press took over.”
Other members of the DIA’s board of directors, as well as its staffers, echoed Cake’s statement in their speeches.
“We have particular businesses that are near and dear to our community and this is one of them,” said Gary Ferguson, executive director of the DIA. “To have PM Press come in and be a part of the community and be part of our downtown is more than we could ask for.”
PM Press employees shared the same sentiments. In particular, they believed that Autumn Leaves is a sanctuary for culture and knowledge.
“This is the space to me that is the biggest promoter of culture in helping people be self thinking individuals,” said Kate Casler, a PM Press employee. “It’s a sanctuary and a place of discovery, and PM Press wants to continue that.”
PM Press was founded in Oakland, California in 2007 by Ramsey Kanaan. The company hopes to amplify radical artists, authors and activists in order to educate and inspire others.
“Our aim is to deliver bold political ideas and vital stories to all walks of life and arm the dreamers to demand the impossible,” according to the website.
Kanaan said that he chose Autumn Leaves both out of serendipitous synergy and its status as a community center, but that he also hoped to build upon the foundation that Wetmore already had.
“Autumn Leaves is already a fantastic community bookstore. It’s already a community hub and a community lifeline,” Kanaan said. “Our vision is to do more of the same, but to hopefully expand it in different — not radically different — ways, but to build upon what’s already here. We are building out an event space with Angry Mom Records where folks from Ithaca and beyond can actually come and interact with the wonderful world of intellectual, cultural ideas.”
When Wetmore started the bookstore, he always envisioned expanding the store.
“I envisioned eventually buying a building and expanding it into a larger store,” Wetmore said. “That’s about as far as I envisioned, which is basically how it’s gone.”
However, some Ithacans view Autumn Leaves differently. Tom Knipe, Ithaca’s deputy director of economic development, described it as a pillar of the community.
“I think Autumn Leaves is an institution,” Knipe said. “Anyone who’s ever lived in Ithaca has been through here and has unexpectedly discovered a book. I think it’s kind of one of those anchor retail stores, and now that it’s transitioning to its new owner, it’s going to continue that tradition [of excellence] and take it to the next level.”